When Coaches Logan Mitchell and Natilee Dawkins were hired in 2022 to take on the high school track program, they did so with a goal of making the team elite — and not just as runners.
In fact, the Success Academy track program has a rich history of winning and producing triumphant athletes — including five-time All-American Rabiat Ahmed (who’s a senior at HSLA-MA heading to UPenn next year). But the program was put on pause in 2020 when we went virtual due to the pandemic. Tasked with recreating an all-star team capable of greatness, Coaches Mitchell and Dawkins set out to build a cohesive, team-forward, talented group of young leaders. Both coaches come to SA with impressive backgrounds in the sport, competing at the collegiate and international levels. We caught up with them (no pun intended) and one of their rising stars to hear more about how the SA track team is coming into its own.
Picture this: A quietly confident scholar decides to try out for his high school track team — and effortlessly smokes everyone. Coaches Mitchell and Dawkins couldn’t believe that runner was an incoming freshman at SA HSLA-Harlem — a scholar named Austin Benjamin — who, at the time, had been running for barely a year.
Throughout the fall, Austin’s natural talent evolved as he trained with the SA team. The 40 high school runners travel together around the city after school for their practices — they train every day — often heading over to the Nike Track & Field Center at the Armory. The physical demands of track and field require incredible grit, which is why most members of the team work year-round to make sure they are ready for competition. Coach Dawkins notes that many are involved in other sports as well, cross-training to be as strong as possible for track: “Whether that be through intramural basketball or weight training during the off-season, they all are determined to build a solid base. One of our scholar-athletes, Darwin Lora, even created his own strength and conditioning club at HSLA-Harlem.”
Coach Mitchell explained the motivation behind the rigorous commitment to training: “The talent we have as a team is vast, and with more training and time together our scholars will be dominant in their sport on a national level. We are all working together to write our own story by going to these new, more competitive meets.”
Setting the team off on the right foot — in a remarkable feat for one so inexperienced — Austin qualified to run in the New Balance National Indoor (NBNI) competition this past March.
Austin placed 9th overall in the 60-meter dash at the competition, a performance worth celebrating given the fact that NBNI is one of the top competitive qualifying meets for high schoolers across the country. And, just to brag on behalf of Austin (since he never would himself), check out his outstanding post-race stats:
- Ranked in the top 25 freshmen nationally for the 60m dash
- Ranked 2nd in NY state as a freshman for the 60m dash
Austin Benjamin, Coach Mitchell, and Coach Dawkins at the New Balance National Indoor 2023 Meet (not pictured: pre-race jitters)
Austin exemplifies a teammates first, winners second mentality that Coach Mitchell and Dawkins aim to instill. Focusing on sportsmanship and leadership rather than just winning, Coach Mitchell detailed their objective: “First and foremost, this team is accountable, introspective, resilient; they work together as one. This is our plan: to ensure that each runner does not view it as an individualized sport, but instead really does their part to grow as role models and to foster the camaraderie of a team.”
Even after he performed so well at NBNI, Austin immediately began setting his sights on the next goal: “I want to make sure some of my other teammates qualify for the next nationals competition. I want them to have the same experience I’m having.”
Coaches Mitchell and Dawkins want to keep this momentum and tone moving forward. They say, “The team is aiming for nothing short of greatness — and taking our first athlete to nationals is a promising sign.” The track team also competed in the National Penn Relays this past weekend. Like Austin had hoped, seven other scholar-athletes qualified to run with him at Franklin Field in Philadelphia! Our boys teams finished in the top five in the prep and independent school division for the 4×100 and 4×400, and they met the qualifying standard to return to the Penn Relays next year.
Next Up? Qualifying for the New Balance National Outdoor meet in June. The sky’s the limit for the Track and Field team, and we’re looking forward to seeing all these talented scholars achieve.